Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Is it time for a slow translation movement?

Andrew Neather in a thought-provoking piece ('We must make hard choices in Google's brave new world' London Evening Standard), touches on the problems faced by people who will be digitised out of a job by the emerging new 'Big Data' (Google, Apple, Amazon etc) trusts.

Translators are one of the groups Neather singles out as being threatened by this monopolisation of data.

As he puts it "... I can punch “I am writing an article about the future of the internet” into Google Translate and get a split-second Finnish translation — “Olen kirjallisesti artikkeli tulevaisuuden internet” — for free. But it in fact depends on thousands of translators’ previous work, their texts compared by Google across millions of pages. Their (uncompensated) labour is rendered invisible."

There is also the question of whether the 'translation' is correct. If you do not already know Finnish, how can you be sure?

But let us not despair just yet. The fact is, there is no substitute for a human doing the actual translation. The human translator will know what is right and what is not. The Translation Memory (TM) is a great help, and can speed up repetitive work, and Machine Translation (MT) is just that; neither can replace a human brain, for all its 77% water content.

The slow food movement was born out of the need to fight the onslaught of industrially produced anonymous foodstuffs, and to rediscover local produce made by real people. The recent news about product substitution in factory made food across Europe seems to vindicate the aims of this movement.

Perhaps it is time for translators to stand up for their own work and reject the industrially produced sausage meat which passes for translation in some spheres.

Translators of a future slow translation movement would provide true crafted work entirely fit for the purpose of human communication. Human Translation (HT) would become the norm for those seeking quality.

But this is no radiant future. This is the present, and most professional translators will recognise it as what they do every day.

It is up to us to continue to work to the highest possible standards and ensure our clients and prospective clients are aware of this.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Can you turn a silk ear into a sow's purse?

Yes, I have changed the order of the phrase to illustrate the dilemma translators often face when confronted with sentences which seem a bit bizarre and might benefit from some recasting or editing.

The question of whether to modify your translation to improve the source's legibility in the target text is a thorny one.

In the silk ear illustration above, the author presumably knew the English language expression and was merely reversing it for effect. Whether it would be best translated literally is another matter, best left to the translator into the target language.

In other cases, where the source text is unclear or incomprehensible, the translator should act, and ask for clarification from the owner of the material, and offer to render it clearer in the target. You can and should try to make the silk purse from the sow's ear you were given. Your client will thank you for it.

This is customer service, common sense, or courtesy, whatever you wish.

In general terms any opportunity to engage with your customer should be seized upon and used to promote and demonstrate the depth and quality of the service you have to offer. The customer will thank you for it, and become or remain a returning customer.

With a bit of luck they will talk to others about how well you worked with them and added value to their translation. This good feedback may help you to gain more customers.

Here is an example from work we did recently: the customer was a company offering an online service which they named in their source (native) language.

It sounded OK in the source language. In fact it was great. The customer was very proud of it and would gladly have used it everywhere.

In English it most certainly was not, and might have led to much hilarity on the part of the English speaking reader, had it been left as it was.

We suggested that it would be much better to translate the name of the service, but not literally. Instead, after a quick brainstorming session, we came up with a catchy name for the service, which also encapsulated it in the same way as in the source.

After explaining what we did and why the customer was delighted. We are now getting all their business.